Instead of feeling lost, look at life differently

Are you worried that you have no idea what you’re doing with your life? A lot of how you feel about yourself stems from how you look at the world. For example, instead of worrying that you are not on a track, consider that the tracks are not viable.

It’s a hard mental shift that might require some tricks. Here’s one to try: You can draw things more accurately if you turn them upside down before you put the pen to paper. Artist (and my aunt) Judith Roston Freilich says, “That’s an old trick. Also, people often suggest that when you are drawing and you’re stuck you turn your page upside down.”

The work world corollary to that might be to take a closer look at the people who pull their whole life together by age 24. In fact, they are the exception to the rule, and they are probably not that innovative. Wayne Osgood, professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, told me these people are “fast starters,” and he says that they are only about 12% of the population. This group typically does not finish college and appears to have conventional personalities and expectations.

Before turning yourself into a pretzel to fit someone else’s mold. Try turning the world upside down and then take another look at yourself.

Posted in Finding a career, Knowing yourself, No image
41 comments on “Instead of feeling lost, look at life differently
  1. Chris Yeh says:

    I have many of the trappings of conventional success (two degrees from Stanford University, Harvard MBA, fast-track career), but despite everything, never felt like I knew what I wanted to do with my life until I was almost 30…and this is after entering college at 15.

    The fact is, it takes time and experience to discover what really matters to you, and there are some things you can’t rush.

    Of course, there are the lucky ones, like Ben Casnocha (http://casnocha.com/), but they are rare exceptions.

  2. Cara says:

    Wonderful post! I’m curious: do you have any specific tips for how to “turn your world upside down”? I don’t even know where to begin! Thanks!

  3. PunditMom says:

    I love this post and know a variety of people I’m going to send it to (both pre-college and post-graduate)!

  4. Penelope Trunk says:

    Cara, Here are tricks I’ve learned for turning the world upside down.

    When I was in my early twenties, I asked myself, “If my family were never going to hear about any of my achievements for the rest of my life, would I be choosing to do what I’m doing?” It’s a way to stop doing stuff that is someone else’s vision instead of my own.

    Recently, I asked myself a lot, “What would I be doing if I had all the money in the world?” It’s a way to find out what really makes me excited, what makes me happy.

    If other people have ideas for looking at the world differently, I’d love to hear them.

  5. Jasmine says:

    Love this post! Honestly the fact that other people (great people like Penelope) are having the same doubts like I do makes me feel good:-). I am 30, do have a “good” job (defined by conventional standards), but nevertheless am constantly questioning myself whether I should just stick to it or try something else, that may be more fun and exciting. Sometimes what I do is to try to look at myself from a totally 3rd party’s view – it sounds like a “ghost” experiment but it works when I think outside of myself. It can usually give me some “fresh” perspectives of who I am and what I should do.

  6. Penelope Trunk says:

    Jasmine I like the third party idea. I do that sometimes, too. And it works. It’s so much easier to see other peoples’ problems than to see our own. Sometimes we can trick ourselves into seeing ourselves as the other person and we get clarity. For a few seconds, at least.

  7. john says:

    hey there,
    I am 24 male. i recently came to the USA. got married. but now everything is black. i dont know what to do, knowing there are so many things i could do. I have no friends. except my wife, i have no one to talk to. when she travels, i find myself very lonely. trying to think, but dont get any solutions. I do miss my friends and family. Its really hard, because i wanna proove my wife that i can do sumthin, but things just go on the exact opposite.
    I am totally lost. i do sit sumtimes at home, i cry, because i dunno wat to do.
    if u think u have any advice for me , then rtie down sumthing. thanx

    * * * * * *  *
    Hi, John. I think you need professional help. You’re going through a huge transition to move here, and get married, and have to find a job all at the same time. It’s too much. No one could do all that without being very, very distressed. It’s okay that you’re having a hard time. But you need to get help. Find the name of a hospital and tell them you want to talk to a social worker. They can point you toward the right person. I think if you had a professional to talk to, things would start looking up. Really.

    Good luck.
    -Penelope

    • Yvonne says:

      Hi John,

      Im very much like that at the moment. I went to uni and have come out and do not know what I want to do. Years ago I felt very succure and settled, and now Im just going from job to job cause I dont know what I wanna do. Im just going through the motions and doing as much as I can. at least when your young you can do this and find yourself. I know some people that are 50 and have just found out what they want to do. The most interesting people dont know what they wanna do, hence trying different things and getting new experiences.

      I think everyone goes through it…..

  8. Wil Goodridge says:

    I feel so lost right now, im 21 and in my first year at university, before i came here i thought i knew exactly who i was, i had such a passion for my work and its all i wanted to do, i tried so hard at college and did really well but since ive been at uni i just could not care less anymore. everyday just seems like an effort, i keep on working even though ive lost intrest cus im telling myself that ill eventually get back to how i was. i just seem unhappy but i cant actually figure out why, i have great friends and im happy in myself but something isnt right. i know if it wasnt for my parents back home i would pack up everything and get on a plane somewhere and just keep going, i dont know what has happend to make me feel like this, its like someone has just clicked there fingers and now im unhappy, is it normal to suddenly feel like this and what do you think i should do. hope you can give me abit of advice.
    xx

  9. StaJo says:

    Even if you figure life out, there will be times when you question yourself…into your 40’s and 50’s. That’s where I’m at..great job, wonderful partner and a loving family…often it’s one element particulary where you think it is OK or great, but something points out that it is not OK. I’m going through this at age 46 despite early career success. It is scary, it’s unsettling but I know that I will come through one way or another. It’s true, no one promised me a rose garden, but I have the tools to make one.

  10. Leeroy Glinchy says:

    I turned my world upside down and went for my dreams. I regret it. I wish I would have stuck to my original plan. It would have been more boring, but I’d be waaaay, more employable, make a boatload more money, and some people would even be supportive.

  11. Miss Green says:

    There are moments in my life were I feel that I have figured everything out. I have the clearest perspective and all the details ready to go. As soon as I hit a bump in the path it feels like I fall 20 feet down. Sometimes I feel like I cant crawl back up that my dreams werent coming true. Im 25 and have 2 children, and I still have this dream of owning a business. In my heart and mind this is what I want so bad it kills that It can’t happen sooner( Or can It?) Most of the time I think im afraid of the next step in life not really knowing where it will leave me. But when I step out of my box regardless if I fall, jump or land on two feet I am excited that made the attempt.

  12. Annie says:

    I’m 47 years old, 4 sons, newly divorced. I am in the health care field and love what I do, however, my life has changed – from a married women to now a confused, divorced, single mom – what did I do? It’s hard to get over the guilt and it keeps me from moving forward. I know I cannot go backward due to not feeling loved. Another man pulled me away from my 23 year marriage and I really look at him as my savior, for myself only. I love my family, my former husband included, however, wasn’t loved the right way by him. This new man is still in the picture, but no future plan, that is what bothers me. I need structure and at least some kind of plan. Feel lost.

    • Mike says:

      I share your pain but cant really relate because I”m 21 and I have never been in a relationship nor dated but yet I know it’s alot on your burden. Don’t be afraid to go out for support. I say go find some friends, but I perfer going to some christian church (even if you’re not religious), and have that feeling of closeness to people and having a social circle whom cares about you and will love you for what you are going through, even if you are a total stranger. Don’t be afraid, go out and try it!

  13. Jesse says:

    Awesome posts! I think that being on both ends of the spectrum of being “happy and steadfast” and “lost and confused” is crucial to fulfilling our divine purpose. If you go through your life never feeling a sense of loss or offbeat, how would you know when things are right or on beat when it hits you?

  14. aries says:

    HI all,

    I m 28 yrs old now.I m from singapore. After I grad from college, I started my first job and it lasted for 6 yrs. To me its juz to gain some experience. If possible, I might stay on till I retired. However, I did not. Moving on, I was not sure what I wanted to be in my life. Wat I wanted. Where is my path? My friends seems doing great except me. Been feeling lost.. for a long time. Anyone can advise me?

  15. aries says:

    sorry.. just to add on.. i m juz dun feel happy about anything. seems like i m not satisfied. with wat i m not sure.. need someone to enlighten me pls.. thank you

  16. Joanna says:

    I was just sitting here thinking how lost I felt…and then I ran across this post. Ive been in sales, social work, marketing, and now find myself in real estate. When I made the jump to real estate, I was SURE that this would be the career for me. Now I’m not so sure, and I’m exhausted.

  17. Derrick Butterfield says:

    To add to this post, finding your direction or your life purpose is about peeling back the layers to get to your inner-self. The layers includes removing ego and our personal mask (that hides our authentic self) that exist in all relationships.
    In addition to move away from head centered to heart centered thinking.
    The head houses our ego, and controls our thoughts on how things should be. However, heart-centered thinking is where our sense of fulfillment and soul’s desire comes from.
    When there is a lack of direction, our thoughts tell us what we should be doing, but the internal struggle with the heart (regardless of the activity), brings a lack of fulfillment or sense of direction. It’s like vanilla ice cream that has no taste.

  18. Cory says:

    I am 26 years old and I have an associates degree, but I am doing nothing with it. I have been at my job for 5 years and it seems that my life has gone nowhere in those 5 years. I have no idea what I want to do as a career, and it’s very frustrating. While it seems that all my friends know what they want to do and are in the fields of work they want to be in, I feel like an outsider. Its a nagging feeling to not know what to do with your life. I feel extremely lost and like im walking in circles. I would be very grateful for some advice!

  19. Harlequinn says:

    Hi, like the person above, I am 21 years old and am in my 2nd year at university. I work too and have the most fantastic boyfriend. Yet I resent what decisions I’ve made and for that matter my mum’s. The world is such a hateful place and find myself day dreaming or sleeping all the time. The people around me are failures and I don’t want to fail. I don’t want everything to end in tears. People had high expectations of me when I was younger, they all believed I’d excel and I haven’t. I’m just normal, another statistic.

  20. Cory says:

    Im trying to find out what really makes me happy! I would rather make less money, but Love my job, than a lot of money and hate my job. You can’t be a failure if you are doing what you love. The world is a scarey place and too much thought and action is put on gaining material wealth, when it should be put on bettering yourself by helping others. College is not for everyone, its true.
    #Harlequinn- It shouldnt matter what other people expected of you, it’s your life and you know whats best for YOU. Life is hard! I hope you figure out what you need to figure out. I’m still trying too!

  21. Mr. Lane says:

    I’m 25 and in that same place, I lost my job a year ago and after putting so much my time into the job and going above and beyond the expectation of it, making really great money. But I wasn’t happy working there, granted the money was nice, I hated going to work everyday. The months following my layoff,I reach a low point in my life and found myself depressed at times, becuase the lack of the unknown of what to do and where to go from here. So I joined a gym, hoping that it would channel or release some of the stress that I was going at the time not really thinking to much into the gym scenario, until I really notice that I had a passion for fitness and was a real gym rat. Completely turning my life around from the original plans that I had for my life and what everyone else expected of me, now I’m a personal trainer, even though I make half the pay that use to, I wake up everyday and the thought of hating my job never crosses my mind. I’ve literally had clients who broke down in tears, becuase I’ve helped them with their issue’s with weight. The first time that I had that experience with a client the feeling I got afterwards couldn’t match any amount of money to be made. My advice to you who are lost, is to think of your hobbies, passions, things you enjoy doing and make a career out of it. sorry for the grammer errors, I have my contacts out

  22. Michael says:

    I am 40 and my wife of 12 years announced one night she was leaving me. Within 48 hrs she had moved in with another man. She left me with debt and all the trappings. Being a banker, my pride would not let my credit suffer so I have survived with the help of friends and even living in my car when needed. Just think, from a couple that made $300k ton almost the streets because of the selfishness of another. Within a few months after that I was laid off from the best job I have ever had. I am clearly lost and d not where to turn to move forward. The job market is brutal and it has been ten months of unemployment. I really have no idea how to save myself for the first time in my life.

  23. Izzy says:

    Great post!
    I am a college student currently 20 years old. This is my first summer off from college and I am spending 3 hours of my week volunteering in the library. Other than that, not much else staying home and draining my parents funds. I feel like it is very hard to stay in school and become independent because I do not know what I want and love. I want too much responsibility at one time and it is overwhelming.
    Everyone’s stories are comforting because it reminds me that I am not the only person struggling with my “soul-search.” Even as I do not have a job, I engage in my interests and passions. I can relate to others because the people here (whether in their 20’s or older)are facing the same problem whether in the form of layoffs or reevaluating what bothers them at their current job.
    Whenever I feel stressed out about my future, I remember that there are many more people out there who have a hard time figuring life out. I realize that this is a journey that will take me more than four years to navigate.
    Thanks for sharing
    Izzy

  24. Dana Willoughby says:

    I am 30 years old and married to a wonderful wife and have four great children. I have been working in the roofing and construction business for 12 years straight with only a couple days missed overall. I hate this job so bad I can not see straight but alas it all came to an end when we ran out of work. I am now unemployed, my wife has to work now, and I am a stay at home dad which I hate. I was the bread winner, I wanted to make my wifes life complete by allowing her to stay at home with her children. I have since failed at that.

    In 2008 I graduated from the Art Institute with bachelors in Game Art and Design. My passion was to make video games for a living and it is something I excel at at least from my perspective. Ever since I graduated it seems things have gone downhill. I have lost my job, I have applied for jobs since 2008 constantly with nothing but declines from major companys, and I feel I am losing my passion for it and do not know what to do, I am so lost. I am not sure if my passion died because of the constant rejection I get on a daily bases by these companys or what the deal is.
    During the course of this time I have been contacted by HR from many companys saying my work is great and I should keep plugging away, but I just can not seem to see how this is true. They say I need experience to work in the industry but will not hire me due to the lack of it. How am I ever going to gain experience if no one gives me a chance?

    I so wish I had answers to this and my mind is just about fried thinking of this every minute of everyday. I want to accomplish my dream, and make good on the dreams I set out for, but I feel like all I have done is fail my family and it sickens me. They deserve better then this.

    Dana Willoughby

  25. Anon Posta says:

    This article doesn’t make any sense. I really wish I understood what it meant. I hate the article writer.

  26. Bela says:

    Thank you. It’s good to know I’m not alone.

    I feel so lost, although I have almost finished my 5 year degree in chemistry but I don’t even know that that’s what I want to do so what a big fricking waste of time it could turn out to be! I have no idea what to do and I feel like I should. Even though I may never know, it’s good to know that other people feel the same.

  27. Anonymous says:

    I am graduating with a Masters in Speech-Language Pathology after going through an intense program of three years. I never felt passionate about the field. I always thought that I’ll find a place in it. I went into the field when I was with my ex. We decided that this was a good field for me. Previously I was majoring in Art History in my undergrad. We were living together and were planning to marry and have children after I finnished. A year into the program we broke up. I took a semester off to think about things. The entire year was constantly filled with social anxiety and I just couldnt continue that way. I asked him if he would support me if I decided to leave school and try to figure things out. He didnt sound so supportive and noone from his side was either. Noone seemed to care that I wasnt well and happy. They just expected me to be happy. Anyway, we broke up and I decided to go back and give it a try on my own. I stayed in that appartment and I was entirely on my own for a little over a year. I had a pretty rough relationship with my family who also never supported me when I decided to go for speach. So pretty much I had no support. Things were OK at first. First semester back, a month before ending I was thinking of dropping out and people (including my therapist) stopped me. I had this impulse to leave things that made me uncomfortable. I had it the following semester and a friend stopped me and then all semesters that followed. I got into a confrontation with a supervisor and behaived pretty poorly and left that practicum. The following semester I paniced big time because I screwed up with a client. I called my mom at 3:30 in the morning and two weeks later I moved back with my parents. Finnished up that semester. When my last semester started, which is the one I am in currently I had a panic attack in the middle of the night and went to the emergency room. I met with people at my department who already knew of my previous troubles and they advised me to seek treatment and come back next semester to finnish. I was so exhausted that I went for it and two weeks later I freaked and begged to return to finnish. And I did. I have just this week left and a job waiting for me to start in september with nice pay. For the past 4-5 months I needed to continuosly cry my eyes out so that I could go through the day at my practicums. Life has been just too rough. I feel like I never had a break. A rough childhood filled with too much physical abuse from parents, many put downs and much rejection and neglect. I moved in with my ex to get away from my parents. And I will need to do that soon again. Just I will be taking care of myself this time. I am scared of screwing up and having another blow up with work .I need this job. I dont want it because I am not passionate about it and feel like I cant find I place for myself in it and because my regret of my actions is just so great. I feel ashamed of how I acted. Oh I forgot to mention that I actually tried running away after I went back to the practicums this semester. I just lost my nerve. I feel extremely lost and empty. I am constantly thinking about what I want in my future career and how would I go about accomplishing it. The thoughts get overwhelming and I just need to cry. I’ve met a great guy that is very supportive but things are so complicated with us as well. I am 25 and I feel that I’ve just been through way too much. I feel like a total screw up and failure. I failed myself and my parents we just ready to say “see we told you you shouldn’t have gone into this field”. They wanted me to have a simple job and I always wanted a high degree and a career. I dont have the degree and career that I always dreamed of.

  28. dogged pursuits says:

    I so often feel that I am the only one, or one of very few that are so lost in the world. I have always struggled with poor self-esteem, social anxiety, fear of failure, and paralysis in making decisions and taking actions. I managed to get a masters degree in social work from a top school, but my passion has always been in art/design/textiles. I spread myself too thin in different creative media, never mastering anything. Social work was never a strong interest. And now, I’ve lost motivation for creative work. I’ve been on disability for 7 years, which has made me very socially isolated and poor. I’ve never been married, which pains me at age 54, although I’ve had some relationships with incompatible men here and there. I haven’t even dated in at least 10 years because I feel lousy about myself and my life, though I’m still in shape, just looking older. And there were many times in the past when people told me that I was very talented, smart, funny, appealing, etc. That feels like ancient history. I feel deeply for all of us that are struggling for meaning and love in our lives. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one, though I wouldn’t wish pain on anyone. May we all be happy eventually.

  29. Greg says:

    I have to admit, many of my friends figured things out relatively quickly, others did not. I’m part of the latter group. I left high school with ambitions of entering medical school only to get tossed around a bit in college without any real guidance, which is probably a reflection of both the current educational system and my waning interest in dealing with another 4 years of school and then sick people the rest of my life. I spent some time in Japan and tried to start a commercial photography business when I returned. I’m currently pretty frustrated with many of the decisions I made when entering college (particularly even going… oddly enough my sentiments have been echoed my the majority of my peers, most of which whom are returning for second degrees). I think the biggest obstacle that we are dealing with in the world right now is that all of the rules are changing. People are changing jobs at a lightning pace. Skill sets are becoming more and more diverse and specialized. Much like components in a computer, individuals are becoming marginalized and plugged into the appropriate place by companies. Combined with the glut of labor available, employers are finding even more diverse ways to cut corners and reduce expenditures and the quality of life for their employees.

    I think the tools to finding success in a career and in life is not to depend on the stereotypical notions of success. College degrees are becoming less impressive (unless you want to teach or do research), and more emphasis is being put on accomplishments and what you can actually produce. The key to your success is simply combining your interests and passions to produce something that other people want. You could be the world’s greatest kitten photographer, however, I feel that being the world’s best marketing manager will probably pay the bills better. Set yourself apart from your competition. Ironically, in college microeconomics I learned about demand for labor. I never thought about labor as being a product, however I cannot distinguish the two anymore. Whatever you do to make money, whether it be selling iPhones to making scarves, you are selling your services or products that you create to someone else: another individual, a company, or the government. The higher quality service or product you provide and the larger the group of people buying/benefiting from your work typically the higher you will be paid. I am a firm believer in hard work, but the adage “work smart, not hard” also applies here. If you work smart to provide a service or product to others that they really desire you will be successful. Degrees and education can help obtain a job (however it is my feeling that unless a degree is REQUIRED for a position, say an engineering/MD/JD degree, then it is a waste of time), but if you can’t produce you’ll either get stuck in the same position, or worse lose it as quickly as you earned it.

    My final suggestion to those of you who are still searching (much as myself) for something worthwhile pursuing. Look into your heart (I know, it’s so sappy!) and find your fortes and passions. Develop skills in a field that you know cannot be outsourced or that allow you to be replaced by a newly minted Lego just out of college. And finally, treat your company (unless you own it) the same way they treat you. If they help you grow, help them grow. If they treat you like dirt, bounce and find someone new that deserves your hard work.

  30. Eli says:

    it seems like i have so many problems i dont even know where to start. im 22, and i just cant find my purpose in life. i like to do a lot of things. i have a lot of hobbies and i’d like to turn them all into careers but dont know which direction to go.
    i have 2 parents who really dont care about what i do, one watches tv all day and the other is on the computer all day. sometimes i get excited and ready to do something with a challenge and i’ll tell my dad and he looks at me with this face(-___-)
    its crazy how he sees me trying to better my life and look for something and he doesnt care at all, just watching youtube videos literally ALL DAY LONG, like seriously, 9am to like 12 midnight. all they can seem to tell me is what i cant do or ‘how only a few exceptional people make it’ or ‘people with abc personality types are driven to do’ whatever and i know thats bullshit. i know i have to get away from them and they are poison, but whats next? where will i go from there? i cant just run away, with no money, no job, no real friends, or knowledge of the world.
    Also i seem to have a problem getting along with people. i really dont have any real friends, like who i have to see and talk to everyday. i feel like if i die i will be forgotten within a few days. im just laying it all out here. im not trying to get sympathy or pity these are just the things that constantly go through my mind. if anything i feel like im more at war with myself, because long after any argument or disagreement im still going over it in my head. in my mind, nobody cares, which in reality is probably not true, but its the way im seeing things right now, and i dont know how to change that perspective
    .

    • Melissakayliewilliams says:

      ive been where you are. for me leaving school was really hard because there were just so many options, and i didnt think i was smart enough for any of them!
      what you need to know is that no decision that you make is wrong. doing nothing is wrong! if you can find a career out of anything that you love doing, DO IT. and see where it leads. life isnt made up of one big decision its made up of lots of little decisions.

      also, with your parents, they seem a little depressed and probably struggling in their own ways, and its obviously affecting you. 
      its very hard to be happy amongst a group of unhappy people, you could try distancing yourself from them so you can get yourself right, then once you are feeling a little more on track then come back to help them..by doing slow things. like cooking for them or cleaning the house or just doing small things to help them out and bring up there mood a bit.

      But you need to take some time and focus on yourself! Once you are feeling a bit better and more of a complete person, people will see you happier and people will react differently to you. its hard to explain but you need to focus on making just smalll decisions that you feel are right. 

      No decision you make is wrong! Even if it turns out a nightmare its a good thing! because life is about learning and youll know to do something next time. 

      goodluck and dont lose faith in yourself, start by doing the things you love, and if your good at something pursue it. see where you end up

  31. Annie says:

    I posted 3 years ago about being lost and confused…and what I can now say that it has worked it’s way to being content with myself. I have since found a closeness to God like I have never had..having faith in what I don’t see and allowing HIM to come into my life and take over has been the biggest accomplishment I have ever made. I would suggest you let yourself be still and feel HIS presence in your life, you will be very suprised what happens..in HIS time of course :)

  32. Falsehopes says:

    Since not many people will read this im commenting on the response by the readers.  I’m 25 completely lost and have no real ambition for life.  Most of the people here are college educated and really have no reason to complain, but as a group you will tell the world of your sorrows expecting the rest of us to feel oh so sorry.  For the love of God please stop whining about the so called hardships that you all think you have.  When your having a true hardship, you will know it.

  33. Meg says:

    Wow. I am not alone! Too bad we can’t all hang out. To the 25 year old above, you are young! You have that.

  34. kande A. says:

    hi….Im only 21 and have an 2yr old son..ive been single for 2yrs. Its been hard being a single mother. Never been to college for anything.Im afraid i will be like this for a long time. I mean I what so much but I dont know where to start.Now I have an boyfriend i still feel the same.People say im to young to feel this way. I need advice on so much. HELP

  35. Emelina Baca says:

    I pay a visit daily a few web pages and blogs to read posts, except this weblog provides feature based content.

  36. Ashley says:

    I need your help am 23 I have a husband and a two year old and no job I am stressed my husband works so hard for us. I know am stressed because its hard to find a job and a family came to fast for me should I get help because I feel like I don’t make my husband happy but I try so hard to raise my daughter and look for a job.

  37. Annie says:

    There is always a way to make a situation better/positive. Did you ever think to babysit while at home with you child? I have 4 sons and when I was younger, I babysat in my home for some of the neighborhood kids. Some before school, some after, and a few during. I made money for the family and was helping others too!
    You can do this and maybe your husband will be happy to see you try, especially when it’s for the good of others :)

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